- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 26, 2011

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — A radical Islamic cleric accused of setting up a terror training camp in western Indonesia had his prison sentence slashed from 15 years to 9 years, an appeals court said Wednesday. No reason was given for the decision.

Abu Bakar Bashir, known as the spiritual leader of al-Qaeda-linked militants blamed for the 2002 Bali bombings, was accused of providing key support for the camp that brought together men from almost every known extremist group in the predominantly Muslim country.

Jihadists at the camp, uncovered in Aceh province last year, allegedly were planning Mumbai-styled gun attacks on foreigners in the capital, Jakarta, and assassinations of moderate leaders such as President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

In March, a district court sentenced the 72-year-old cleric to 15 years in prison for inciting terrorism, but his lawyers appealed.

The Jakarta High Court quietly handed down its ruling Oct. 20.

“All I can say right now is that his sentence was reduced to nine years,” Achmad Sobari, a court spokesman, told the Associated Press. “I do not know exactly what factors were taken into account in the judge’s decision.”

Bashir’s lawyer, Mohammad Mahendradatta, said he was awaiting official notification from the court. He stressed, however, that his client was innocent and should be freed.

Even nine years was an outrage, he said, vowing to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Indonesia was thrust into the front lines in the battle against terrorism in 2002 when Jemaah Islamiyah, co-founded by Bashir, bombed two crowded nightclubs on the resort island of Bali, killing 202 people.

Many of the victims were Australian tourists. Seven were Americans.

Bashir, a potent symbol for Indonesia‘s radical Islamists, spent several previous stints in detention, but efforts to link him to terrorist activities repeatedly have fallen short.

Arrested almost immediately after the Bali blasts, prosecutors were unable to prove direct involvement, and judges sentenced him to 18 months in prison for immigration violations.

Soon after his release, he was rearrested and sentenced to 2½ years, this time for inciting the twin nightclub attacks. That charge was overturned on appeal, and he was freed in 2006.

Last year he was rearrested, this time for his role in the Aceh camp.

Other militants testified that Bashir watched a video as they trained and received written reports assuring him more than $100,000 he had helped raise was being used for the struggle to build an Islamic state.

Judges said it was impossible to prove, however, that the funds were going to be used to buy guns, ammunition and equipment for training.

Though Bashir denied involvement in the camp, he repeatedly defended it as legal under his faith.

He told reporters before the March verdict that the trial was part of a plot by the United States and Australia to get rid of him once and for all.

Associated Press writer Ali Kotarumalos contributed to this report.

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